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Answers for Small Shops Doing Direct Mail

Successful fundraisers use direct mail to inform and engage donors, get a strong volume of gifts, and transition annual donors into major ones.

The secret to a successful direct mail program? Unfortunately, there isn’t one. You have to learn the fundamentals and regularly execute them.

You should have a yearlong plan in place. This plan should concentrate on 5 really important areas:

  1. Your timeline – This should contain the dates when donors should receive your appeal, not when the piece should drop. Then you can work backwards on things like when your appeal should be printed, etc. If you’re working on a fiscal year schedule, it’s usually a good idea to do mailings in mid-June, late-October early-November, and then again in December, but not during Christmas week. During the second half of the year, send reporting/thanking follow-ups in January/February informing donors of their impact to date. Do the same in April and then again in May or June.

  2. Responsibilities – Clearly spell out who is doing what. Most small shops don’t have the luxury of making just one person responsible for direct mail. Regardless of whether your mailings are outsourced or processed internally, personnel should be assigned to components of your already established timeline.

  3. Theme and Message – Because many donors don’t read the mail they get, it’s important that they recognize your appeals when they receive them. Themes and messages should be consistent, paper products should match, images and colors should be consistent. Think about it this way: let’s say you are seeing a doctor for the first time and you walk into his office and it’s rather dark and dinghy, You may react to the smell, cleanliness, and age of the office and it very well may cause you to form an opinion even before you’ve met the doctor. Make sure your donors have a positive reaction to your communications based on what they see, touch, etc.

  4. Copywriting – This is a very important step in the process. Letter length, placement of the ask, images, writing style, and lots more need to be considered. Think about what information donors need in order to make a donation. There should be a clear call-to-action. It should be a personal ask and be about the donor and the impact he/she can make. Be urgent in your request. And don’t forget to (A) mention something about their giving history, the amount of their last gift, their total number of donations, and the sum of all donations to date, and (B) be sure to talk about the impact or the difference the individuals donor is making in the life or lives of people. Be real. No one will believe it if you say that a $100 donation has saved the world from extinction, but by creating variables within your letters based on gift ranges you could say, “Your gift of $100 has helped 10 children,” or “Your $1,000 gift helped 100 children.”

  5. Care – A direct mail appeal can be compelling, well written and look beautiful, but if it’s not donor-centric, it will probably not do well. All donors should feel like they are receiving a personal letter from you. A board member who has a long history of supporting your organization should not be receiving the same letter you send to a first-time donor. Your letters should target different audiences with different versions of the same letter.

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